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Andrea Braendli: Serenity Under Siege

Andrea Braendli finds her calm weathering storms of rubber. That will serve the Swiss stopper and her teammates well on their upset-minded journey.
Andrea Braendli

Cruise the Health and Wellness section of a book retailer and you’re sure to stumble across meditation guides by the dozens. This one will promote deep breathing exercises. That one will provide sage aphorisms about mindfulness. If you search long enough, you might even find something that works. If all else fails, though, Swiss netminder Andrea Braendli has her own helpful tip that could help you finally find your zen: strap on some pads, step into the blue paint and get positively inundated with vulcanized rubber.

Over the course of the 2021 World Championship, no netminder was anywhere near as busy as the 24-year-old. She faced nearly one shot per minute (0.95 shots, to be exact)across her 210 tournament minutes, almost a full four-tenths of a shot more than any other goaltender. Most notably, Braendli stopped 55 of 58 in Switzerland’s tournament opener against the U.S., 41 of 46 against Canada in the preliminary round and posted a 61-save performance in the rematch against the eventual champions in the semifinal.

But it’s in that volume where Braendli found shot-stopping serenity. “Once you get past 20 shots in a period, it’s just playing,” she said. “It’s not about thinking about how hard it is. You’re just playing. For me, personally, I love games like that. You can show how good you are. It’s a challenge, yes, but it’s also really fun to play. You technically know that you can’t really lose anything because you’re not expected to win, but you still want to give the team a chance, which is what being a goalie is all about.”

Save totals aside, it’d be easy to dismiss Braendli’s effort by glancing at the standings and her overall numbers. The Swiss went winless in the group stage and were outscored 17-1, while Braendli’s overall .905 save percentage and 5.44 goals-against average don’t exactly inspire awe. But the reality is Braendli’s herculean task in powerhouse Group A was made near-Sisyphean when Swiss star Alina Mueller sustained a tournament-ending ankle injury in the team’s second game.

That the Swiss remained somewhat competitive during round-robin play was because of Braendli – as well as partner Saskia Maurer, who backstopped the Swiss to a quarterfinal win and posted superior numbers but most often played only once defeat was a certainty. “A couple years ago, if we would have lost our key player, the whole tournament would have been bad,” Braendli said. “But I feel like we have such a young, talented team that we are not dependent on one player at all. (Alina) is still one of our best players, and some players really stood up after that loss and really showed what they’re capable of. I’m really proud of everyone.”

Getting the starting duties was the culmination of a long climb into the spotlight for Braendli, who was on the roster at the 2016 and ’17 worlds but didn’t see her first action until the 2019 event. She credits her rise to joining the Ohio State Buckeyes ahead of the 2018-19 season. “It was the best decision of my life,” said Braendli, who became the winningest netminder in school history last season. “I feel like before (Ohio State), I was just playing every year or every season and not really actually moving somewhere. Once I got here, I made huge jumps in my development as a person and as a player.”

The collegiate experience and her past worlds exposure allowed Braendli to act as the wily veteran despite her youth. She guided and encouraged Maurer throughout the tournament, helping the duo foster a healthy and competitive relationship that can only bode well for the Swiss with the Olympics on the horizon.

As it pertains to the fast-approaching 2022 tournament, Switzerland’s fourth-place finish – the result of a loss to Finland in a bronze-medal game that Braendli felt was winnable – has her high on their chances at finding the podium. “I really think that we have a very, very good chance to win a medal, whatever that medal will be,” she said. “We really got into that mind that anything can happen and that we are capable of doing whatever we want. That really gives us hope and the belief that we can achieve great things with the team.” 

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